Awa is…

Megan White - Senegal


October 5, 2011

It’s easy to feel competent.  Easy, that is, until you find yourself spending the week in a Senegalese village with only a basic knowledge of Wolof and no Western toilet!  During my first week of village life, my name became Awa, after the first of my father’s two wives, and my journal became my new best friend.  I loved spending some quality time on the basang, the plastic mat that is my other new best friend in Louga (shhh, don’t tell anyone or my diary will be jealous!); reflecting on hilarious mishaps, fresh facts and my blossoming love for Senegal and my family; filling page after page with doodles and lists.  The following list has floated to you from under the African sky, illuminated by a cell phone and made plump by endless rounds of watermelon, ceebu jeen, ataya and Cafe Touba:Awa is…The small child:  My youngest sister comes running after me as I set off down the path.  The two young boys who are with me obviously know their way among these trees and flocks of goats, and would be only too happy to walk me two kilometers to the family fields.  My sister, however, as well as the rest of the family, insists that dafa tanga, it is too hot, for me to go anywhere, and I head back to the basang with her, where I am immediately handed another piece of watermelon.

The court jester:  I bring one of the two enormous plates of ceebu jeen, the fish and rice dish we eat almost everyday for lunch, from the cooking hut to the mats where everyone waits.  My mother, Awa, says merci, to which I reply noo ko bokk, Wolof for you’re welcome (literally we share the thanks), in all seriousness. This is met with extreme hilarity by the entire family.  And repeated the next day.

The rich, incomprehensible alien:  I sit on the neighbor’s mat in the sand, (badly) shelling some black eyed peas, when the beautiful, imp-like girl next to me demands that I give her money.  I explain that I’m a student and that I don’t have any money, only to be showered with questions about how many phones I have, my car, what the US is like, etc.

The honored guest:  Fatou brings me a pitcher of hot milk with sugar, bread with unsalted butter wrapped in a napkin against the flies and a mug on a tray.  Once again, I could not find it in me to rouse myself at dawn with everyone else for breakfast, despite the previous night’s determination to do so.  Tomorrow!  I’ll spend less time looking at the stars tonight and more time sleeping under them since the pre-evening naps seem to do nothing for me.

The whitest kid you know:  I sit in a plastic chair in the sandy square in the middle of the village.  I’m surrounded by women and children, all of whom stand and watch me with excruciating scrutiny, fascinated by my hair, my skin and my version of youza, the dance the toddlers of the village taught me.  Youza, Awa, youza!  I dance for a second, and everyone, including me, cracks up.  White teeth cleaned with sticks abound, laughter needs no other language.

The mosquito bait:  Self-explanatory.

What a most excellent adventure!

Megan White